Pope meets with victims of sexual abuse
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday again acknowledged the pain the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal has caused and reached out personally to some of the victims.
The pope, along with Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, met with a group of people abused by clergy, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a papal spokesman.
"They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterwards listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope," Lombardi said.
The pope spent a few minutes privately with each of the five or six victims, some of whom were in tears, Lombardi told The Associated Press.
"This was a big deal; I think that it has surprised everybody," Vatican journalist Delia Gallagher said.
"For the victims, there has been a feeling that there has been a certain silence coming from the Vatican," she said.
"From the beginning, Pope Benedict decided he was going to address that. This personal contact for him was something pretty important."
The meeting was believed to be the first between a pope and the victims of clergy sexual abuse, the AP reported.
The latest stop on the Washington portion of the pope's U.S. tour was an interreligious gathering at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.
Earlier, celebrating Mass under blue skies in center field at Washington's new ballpark, the pope gave a 20-minute homily that focused on hope, repentance, unity and reconciliation among the 70 million Catholics in the United States.
"It is in the context of this hope, born of God's love and fidelity, that I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as the result of sexual abuse of minors," Benedict said.
"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention."
During the Mass, the pope said the church has worked "to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation" and to ensure that children are safe.
Before the Mass began, Benedict took a lap in the "popemobile" around the field at Nationals Park.
Fourteen Roman Catholic cardinals, 250 bishops, 1,300 priests, four choirs totaling 570 singers, and as many as 46,000 worshippers greeted the pope with songs, cheers and reverence.
Many of the enthusiastic faithful shaded themselves with Mass programs after traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to attend. Local churches held lottery drawings to distribute tickets to the event.
"My back is killing me, my knees are aching, and I'm so thirsty, but the pain is worth it," a 77-year-old man from Massachusetts said. He paid almost $700 for a round-trip plane ticket for one day just to see the pope for a few minutes but said it was worth every penny.
"It's events like these and meeting the people around us that make me proud to be Catholic," said Deborah Moon, a second-grade teacher from Laurel, Maryland. She added that she couldn't wait to go back to class and show her students pictures of the Pope.
Everyone in the park had to go through metal detectors on entering, and nearby roads and bridges were closed.
Temporary flight restrictions were in place over the park, and a 1½-mile section of the adjacent Anacostia River was closed until the Mass concluded just before noon.
As the Mass ended, a smiling Benedict XVI walked in procession with his papal miter on his head and shepherd's staff, or crosier, in his hand. He slowed frequently to shake hands and bestow blessings on those fortunate enough to have seats on the field.
Benedict will travel to New York on Friday and address the U.N. General Assembly, linking the visit to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He'll celebrate Mass on Sunday morning at Yankee Stadium.
On Wednesday, the pope addressed the church sex abuse scandal, the easy availability of pornography and the "alarming decrease" in Catholic marriages in the United States.
He spoke at a prayer service with U.S. bishops at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America.
Benedict said the sexual abuse of children by priests has caused a "deep shame" and called it "gravely immoral behavior."
"Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed ... their obligations," he told the bishops.
Responding to the situation has not been easy and was sometimes very badly handled, the pope admitted.
"It is vitally important that the vulnerable are always shielded from souls who would cause harm," he said.
If you simply read the news, you would think Joe Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict, was truly remorseful about his employees raping little children, even meeting with some of the victims of his heavenly workers. However, no one in the media that I know of is taking him to task for holding this meeting in private, asking why he is not being forced to answer for his defense of Cardinal Bernard Law, and why he refuses to address his previous statements relativizing the sex scandals of the Church, in which Joe asserted that it was the result of media bias against the Vatican.
Genuine shame is not met with a private meeting. It is backed by something resembling accountability for the evil acts this man and his fellow leaders of the institution committed. And accountability means nothing when Bernard Law, the man at the center of the child sex scandal in the Boston archdiocese, is allowed to remain free in Rome, with the protection of Ratzinger (who, like Karol Wojtyla [aka, John Paul II], is a personal friend of Law's).
To this, I ask, how can a man sincerely claim to feel "terrible" and "ashamed" about his employees (and priests at that) molesting children, when he gives protection and solitude to the most important guilty party who facilitated the molestation of hundreds of children? How can anyone at CNN or any media outlet take this seriously?
Then again, there is one archdiocese Ratzinger is not visiting--surprise, surprise, Boston.